David Noonan

2007 FutureGreats, selected by Melissa Gronlund

By Melissa Gronlund

AUSTRALIAN ARTIST DAVID NOONAN explores a state of what might be called temporal exile: hangovers from the past in the present, folk symbols whose meaning is forgotten and, in a more general way, the lingering nostalgia for a grandeur lost before our time. Noonan, who has a solo show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris this month, makes collage, screen prints mounted on plywood, 8mm films and squat carved sculptures – all largely rendered in sepia or black and white, and unified as a whole by recurrent motifs, such as the owl or the intricate patterns of 1970s brocade. Tudor (2005), shot on grainy 8mm film and transferred to DVD, records the facade and dormer windows of a Tudor mansion glimpsed through fat summer foliage; Noonan leaves open the question of whether the house is from the Tudor period or whether it has simply been rebuilt, aspirationally, in its style. The black-and-white Field (2005), also shot on 8mm, records a young woman walking through tall grass; she is, and always has been, the subject of innumerable poems, paintings and daydreams.

In his screen prints Noonan layers images on top of one another, combining actors, dancers and vaguely Ingmar Bergman-esque figures with plants, birds and the gridded lines of city buildings. A recent suite of images culled much of its source material from theatre magazines of the 1940s and 50s: theatrically lit faces, with shadows falling from high cheekbones or expressions exaggerated by stage makeup, and bodies clamped in the high drama of theatrical gestures. Their import, once immediate, is here rendered opaque; and the chiaroscuro effect of the lighting is muted by the overlap of other images. Meaning is both remade and distorted: a chorus looks out to the stage lights while above them a white dandelion clock hovers like a proximate sun. The effect of the layered images is of looking through two superimposed panes of glass, each pushing and pulling, rather than the hierarchy of elements given by collage. As such, the work looks resolutely two dimensional, forgoing the illusion of spatial depth for the irreal quality of after-images. This perhaps heightened by Noonan’s placing figures upside down or on their side: in Untitled (2006), for example, two dancers – one of them Yvonne Rainer – fl oat like interlocked puzzle pieces in the middle of the print, creating tumbling displacements of time, place and the picture plane. 

This article was first published in the March 2007 issue.